Many young girls struggle with self-esteem, fitting in with their peers and feeling confident. Girls growing up in dense, underserved areas of Los Angeles have those “normal” burdens, while also being exposed to things like poverty, homelessness, alcoholism, abuse and abandonment. Most girls at Taking the Reins have personal experience with one or more of those things.
Their realities outside of Taking the Reins are our motivation to create a safe, secure environment where they can experience a different kind of life – free of their burdens.
With each passing year we are inspired by Taking the Reins’ impact. The love and fascination of horses is a common motivator for people who come to us, but they find an invaluable support system and so much more once they are here.
“This program is about the girls in it,” said Trace, a longtime TTR beneficiary. “We are a family, kept together through these horses. The girls who enter have no idea the friendships and connections they are about to make.”
Trace’s foster parents brought her to Taking the Reins in 2018. They were searching for a program that would allow her to be around horses, but more than that, they wanted her to be part of something stable after a life filled with unimaginable transition. Trace got to be around horses – and quickly bonded to one named Karo – but being at TTR gave her much more than experience with these animals.
Now a student at UCLA, Trace says that the most important things TTR gave her are confidence, safety, a sense of belonging, and the feeling of family. As a foster child, the concept of family was foreign to her. At TTR she not only found people who looked like her on the outside, but who shared unique life experiences and had to work through similar things on the inside. Because of her time at Taking the Reins, Trace will forever know what family is.
Tai is another member of Taking the Reins who exemplifies what we do. Unlike Trace, Tai grew up in a close-knit, biological family. She and her parents immigrated here from Russia three years ago. They left behind extended family, and in particular, Tai’s grandmother who shares a special bond with her.
Tai arrived in a new country without one of her strongest sources of support, and unable to speak the language of her new home. But Tai has always been passionate about horses, and her middle school counselor knew that. Tai got in contact with Taking the Reins soon after her arrival in the United States. Gratefully for Tai, horses don’t need words to communicate.
Today she speaks with such clarity and confidence, you would have no idea three years ago she spoke no English. Like Trace, Tai also came to Taking the Reins with the hopes of spending time with horses, but the thing she is most grateful for is how TTR helped her find her voice.
“I felt comfortable making mistakes with my English there,” Tai said. “No time spent at Taking the Reins is wasted. This place means a lot to me. I learn a lot of skills from their programs, and being there helps me with my problems.”
In her time at TTR, Tai has formed a special bond with a horse named Biggie. When Tai first arrived she did not have enough experience to ride Biggie, but rather than letting that discourage her, it became her motivator. She learned all the ground and riding skills she could until she was finally ready to ride him. Tai achieved this milestone goal and has since discovered her desire to make a career working with horses.
Our horses are large motivating factors for our girls. They are taught how to work for something they want – one of many lessons learned at TTR that will carry them through life.
Trace and Tai came to Taking the Reins wanting to engage with horses, but on the inside they longed for a sense of belonging. Thanks to TTR, they not only have experience with horses, but life skills from our programs and relationships with people here that will last a lifetime.
Our programs are curated to our girls’ needs. We know that many of their realities are far from ideal. Most struggle with self-image and belonging, and lack the same opportunities as other girls their age. They are fed through the free and reduced lunch program at Title 1 schools, and live in areas with little to no access to healthy, fresh foods. Every day they are confronted with the harsh realities of domestic struggles, economic instability and crime. These struggles leave little time for them to dream of, or conceptualize, something better. We introduce them to a reality they didn’t know was possible.
We feel blessed to give these girls opportunities and experiences like the ones Trace and Tai speak of. Your donations not only give these girls social and emotional strength, but also grant them access to a future above and beyond the circumstances they were born into. 100% of girls who spend two or more years in our programs graduate high school on time, and 92% of our girls are the first person in their family to go to college.
Please consider a gift to Taking the Reins this holiday season. You can give online at takingthereins.org/donate, or send a check to 4004 Verdant Street Los Angeles, CA 90039.
We want to give more girls like Trace a family, and more girls like Tai their voices.